Thursday, March 31, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
A few residents along Interstate 15 in Las Vegas now know when the freeway will cover their homes, but some of their neighbors might have to wait another two decades before they get answers.
Residents have been waiting for years to find out if and when their homes would be taken as the Nevada Department of Transportation has been developing plans for Project Neon to widen I-15 and reconfigure surrounding roads between Sahara Avenue and the Spaghetti Bowl.
Within the last month, the department quietly began sending out notices to some residents whose homes will be taken over for the first phase of the project.
But the massive project is broken into five phases, and land for some of the latter phases might not be acquired for another 15 or 20 years.
The first phase, which is the largest and will cost about $500 million, includes the widening of I-15 and the addition of a new ramp to the Spaghetti Bowl to connect the I-15 express lanes directly to the high-occupancy vehicle lanes on U.S. 95.
Early plans for the project indicated as many as 345 residences and 445 commercial properties could be taken over.
But until funding for the project is secured and final designs developed, the transportation department can’t say exactly which homes and businesses will be acquired, either through a friendly sale to the state or, if necessary, the use of eminent domain.
Federal and state budget issues and the lack of a federal highway program have put all project timelines in flux, but officials said they hope to acquire all of the homes needed in the first phase this year. The second phase is likely five or more years away, and other phases are even further out.
“I wish I could give a solid timeline,” Cole Mortensen, the project manager from the transportation department, told about 50 residents who came to a meeting about the project Tuesday night.
The Glen Heather Estates Neighborhood Association invited the transportation department to give an update at its regular meeting. The department agreed, and also asked that residents from the nearby Scotch 80s and Saratoga Meadows neighborhoods be invited.
Nearly 10 percent of the Glen Heather Estates neighborhood could eventually be taken over by the project, but most of the impact won’t be until the last phases of the project.
Five homeowners in the neighborhood have already received notice that their homes will be taken for the first phase. The homes, on the northern end of Loch Lomond Way, along with five others on Charmast Lane to the north, will be bulldozed to make way for the wider freeway and access roads.
Transportation officials said they might notify more property owners in the next few months.
One of the Loch Lomond Way homeowners grew up in the home her parents bought in the 1970s. After her mother died two years ago, she and her husband remodeled the home, believing they had another 20 years before the project would take the house.
Last June, about the time they finally moved back into the neighborhood, they got a call from the transportation department saying their house was in the phase one area, said the woman, who asked that her name not be used. They received a formal notice about a month ago and had an appraisal of the home done last week.
The family is sad to leave, especially after making so many improvements. “The consolation is that the noise is miserable,” the woman said. “With us being in the first phase, we will be somewhere else (when construction starts) and we don’t have to deal with it.”
Greg Clemensen also lives on Loch Lomond, with his backyard overshadowed by the I-15 sound wall. So far, he hasn’t been notified that his house will be acquired.
“It’s definitely a subject that’s on people’s minds,” he said, noting that attendance at the neighborhood meeting was three times what it normally is.
Carol Lamb, the department’s supervisor for right-of-way acquisition in Southern Nevada, said, “I’ve done this work for nearly 20 years. I understand that if your property is impacted, it’s a very emotional thing. We wish we didn’t have to do it, but these projects are necessary for the growth of our city.”
It typically takes four to six months from the time a notice is given to when the state will make an offer to buy the home, Lamb said. Once an agreement is reached, the residents will have at least 30 days to move.
Residents are offered the fair market value of the home, plus help with relocation, Lamb said.
Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, who is also running for Las Vegas mayor, asked Lamb if it was possible for the price be based on the value of their homes a few years ago, before prices dropped.
Lamb said federal law requires the price be based on the current fair market value, but the law also says the property must be acquired free and clear, so the homeowner can’t be left with a debt if their home is underwater.
That answer was the only time people in the room seemed happy with a comment from the transportation department.
Giunchigliani also reminded transportation officials to keep residents informed of what is happening. “We don’t want another F Street,” she said, referring to the west Las Vegas street closed in a prior I-15 project, prompting angry protests from neighbors.
Mortensen promised to be stay in touch with the residents.
“As we progress with the project, there aren’t going to be any surprises,” he said. “I fully expect to keep coming to these meetings.”